On your Mark
Law and grace
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as
his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The
Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the
Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his
companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he
entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only
for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to
them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man
is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, NIV)
The story is told that Dr. Harry Ironside, the late pastor
of Moody Church in Chicago, many years ago once brought a young man with him on
a train to Oakland, Calif. A few days later, Ironside found himself in a small
Bible study where other young people fell to arguing about the relationship of
law to grace.
Finally, the young man who traveled with him and who had not
been a Christian very long, spoke up:
“When Mr. Ironside asked me to go to Oakland with him, I had
never been on a train before. We traveled all day, and finally came to Barstow
out in the desert.
“I was very tired, so I got off the train to walk the
platform and stretch my legs. I saw a sign that read DO NOT SPIT HERE. I looked
at that sign and thought, What a strange sign to put up, DO NOT SPIT HERE.
“But while I looked at that sign, the next thing I knew, I
spit! I thought to myself, How strange. At the very place the sign says, DO NOT
SPIT HERE, many people are spitting. I wasn’t the only one.
“We got back on the train and finally arrived at Oakland.
Some friends took us to a beautiful home. Mr. Ironside and I went in, and he
showed me to a sitting room while he excused himself. I looked around at the
soft, thick rug on the floor, beautiful walls painted a lovely color, pictures
hanging on the wall, and beautiful furniture.
“I looked all around that room and tried to find a sign that
said DO NOT SPIT HERE. But, of course, I couldn’t find such a sign.
“I thought to myself, ironically, Too bad this lovely room
is going to be ruined by people spitting on the floor. It was obvious nobody
had been spitting there.
“Then the thought occurred to me. When the law demanded, DO
NOT SPIT HERE, it made me want to spit. I spit, and many other people spit. But
when I came into grace and everything was lovely and nice, I didn’t want to
spit and I did not need the law to say, DO NOT SPIT HERE.”
The young man experienced exactly the same situation on the
railway platform as Jesus’ disciples, except that the law then said, “DO NOT
PICK GRAIN ON THE SABBATH!” Jesus defended His disciples from the criticism of
the Pharisees through illustrating from David’s example that genuine human need
— whether our own or that of another (the healing of Peter’s
mother-in-law on the Sabbath, Mark 1:29-31) trumps obedience to ritualistic
A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, I am saved not because I am good; but because You are good. The law that said, "Do not ... " could never save me. But, You did. You gave me grace. Help me to give others grace when I would rather hold them to the letter of the law.
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies
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